The book my book group read last month was Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers. I finished up the sequel Dark Triumph today and am now impatiently waiting for the third book to be published in the spring. This is very enjoyable young adult series, partially because it has a very entertaining central concept, well executed, and the author avoids some of the cliches and narrative traps that plague less entertaining novels. Really any review of these books is unnecessary simply because telling you that the books revolve around TEENAGE ASSASSIN NUNS IN BRITTANY DURING THE MIDDLE AGES is likely to either draw you in or leave you repulsed (if you are a boring person who doesn’t enjoy assassin nuns).
The first book centers on Ismae, who is a peasant girl with a brutal life who escapes to the convent of Saint Mortain, the God of Death. Trained to be a top notch assassin, Ismae is assigned to go to the court of the Duchess Anne, accompanying the handsome yet extremely suspicious Duval. Ismae uses her assassin’s gifts to begin unraveling the plots that surround the Duchess, but she is distracted by her growing attraction to the man she’s assigned to spy upon. One of the things that I enjoyed very much about this book was the combination of historical research and a unique narrative voice. The convent of Saint Mortain is clearly a cover for worship of a much older, more pagan god, given a vaguely Christian appearance in order to survive the religious pressures of the day. Ismae as a peasant who is transformed by her convent training has the zeal of a fervent believer, but even she notices that sometimes her orders to kill that come from the convent might be more politically expedient than they are the will of her god. The fantasy elements are blended in well with Ismae’s assassin training. She can see dark smudges when someone is marked for death, and only then will she act as an assassin. I have a bit of YA Love Triangle fatigue at this point, so I was very happy when the book just concentrated on the growing relationship between Ismae and Duval without the distraction of a third party. It seems like more often in YA these days a love triangle is a required element, so the lack of one felt very refreshing. Ismae has close friends at the convent who were trained at around the same time as her, and this plays in nicely to the sequel books.
In addition to Love Triangle Fatigue, I also have a bit of Trilogy Fatigue, as there are plenty of series that have 2 books of content that are stretched into three, or 4 books of content turned into an unsatisfying trilogy. I also get a bit weary of trilogies that are basically one long book with two horrible cliffhangers spaced out into three volumes. The His Fair Assassin Series is one of my favorite types of trilogies because instead of following the same character and story throughout, the protagonist changes with each book. The timelines cover some of the same periods, but the shift in character perspective makes the series very interesting.
Dark Triumph has Sybella as a protagonist. A girl of noble birth who arrives at the convent acting utterly wild and not particularly thrilled to be there, Ismae regarded Sybella with affection but not a lot of true understanding, as their backgrounds and life experiences are totally different. Sybella is the daughter of the evil (EXTRA EVIL) nobleman D’Albret, who is determined to gain control of Brittany by forcibly marrying the young Duchess Anne. While Ismae may have foiled some of his plots in the first book, he is still around (STILL EVIL!) and Sybella must work to carry out the will of Mortain while dodging her own relatives. Sybella’s main activity is rescuing The Beast, one of Duvall’s close friends whose martial powers when he’s enraged by battle lust are unmatched. As they journey together, more and more of Sybella’s troubled background is revealed, but even she is able to transform and grow into a whole person. The contrast in personalities between the two heroines was enjoyable. Ismae is a true believer, but Sybella is cynical and pragmatic. She enjoys killing people for her own reasons, and in a way she’s almost perfectly matched with The Beast, who leaves trails of corpses in his wake.
The conflict between the political maneuverings of the nuns in charge of the convent and the will of the god Mortain itself are alluded to in the first book and developed even more in the second. I’m wondering if there will be some larger upheaval in the convent for book three. Sometimes there are authors who might seize upon an interesting idea, but the execution and back story isn’t very well filled out, so the reader has to do a lot of suspension of disbelief and mental gymnastics in order to get through the book. I’m thinking particularly of Divergent, which was fun but there were so many loopholes in the events and future history portrayed in the books that it didn’t seem like there was much initial world building taking place before the book was written. This is absolutely not the case with the His Fair Assassin series, where it is very clear that LaFevers has done extensive research into the time period. The reader can just sit back and be transported into another world and enjoy the unique setting and fantasy elements. I highly recommend this series if you enjoy historical fantasy.
I finished a scarf/shawl thing. It is too bad it is going to be too hot to wear it for many many weeks.
It is a Color Affection made of Wollmeise, and it is awesome! I love that yarn.
I love it so much I bought some more!
These are We’re Different skeins – slightly off standard versions of the Suzanne and Verhext und Verratzt. The Verhext und Verratzt WD might be my favorite skein of Wollmeise yet. I love the purples!
Speaking of purple things, I’ve been cheating on my knitting by working on an Amethyst Princess of Gemworld cross stitch project. Here you can see Prince Topaz and Lady Turquoise, along with a headless, bisected Prince Garnet:
I accidentally blew away most of the images on this blog and have been adding them back to my Amethyst posts. I just realized that I hadn’t actually finished covering the very odd time Amethyst popped up in the Convergence/Book Of Fate/Weirodoverse crossover issues in the 90s.
Amethyst does appear briefly at the end of Book of Fate 8, where she takes a bath, evilly.
She shows up again to flirt with Fate in an ill-fitting purple bikini.
Other things happen, and eventually Fate gets sent to a future alien plant to hang out with Lobo!? I was really not paying very close attention at this point, but Amethyst does show up again as an old lady.
And that’s about it, for Amethyst appearances in this obscure corner of the 1990s. I do plan to cover some of the Amethyst references in Legion of Super-Heroes soon.
I’ve been slacking on doing my reading lists, which I do find useful when I want to look back and see what I’ve read over the year. This is a partial list of what I’ve read from January 2013-May 2013:
The Giver and Messenger Lois Lowry – We are reading a ton of Lois Lowery for my YA book club this month.
Graceling and Fire Kristin Cashore – Throughly enjoyed the first book in the series, but the switch to a different country in the same world with a complicated and detailed backstory left me a little bit unenthused by the second volume. Both were well-written, and I probably will check out the third volume in the series at some point.
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight Jennifer E. Smith – This was cute, but in terms of young romance in a foreign country, I much preferred Anna and the French Kiss. The timeline here in the characters getting to know each other was so compressed, I didn’t feel like I got a very full picture of their personalities.
Something About You Julie James
Irresistible (Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, #3) Mary Balogh
The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae (The Cynster Sisters Trilogy #3) Stephanie Laurens
Twice Tempted (Night Prince, #2) Jeaniene Frost
The Inconvenient Duchess (The Radwells #1) Christine Merrill
The Other Side of Us Sarah Mayberry
Temptation and Surrender (Cynster, #15) Stephanie Laurens
Potent Pleasures (Pleasures, #1) Eloisa James
Winterblaze (Darkest London, #3) Kristen Callihan – This was a fun historical paranormal romance series. Looking forward to the next book!
Firelight (Darkest London, #1) Kristen Callihan
Moonglow (Darkest London, #2) Kristen Callihan
If I Fall (The Blue Raven, #4) Kate Noble
Revealed (The Blue Raven, #1) Kate Noble
The Taste of Night (Signs of the Zodiac, #2) Vicki Pettersson
The Scent of Shadows (Signs of the Zodiac, #1) Vicki Pettersson
The Promise in a Kiss (Cynster Prequel) Stephanie Laurens
Devil’s Bride (Cynster, #1) Stephanie Laurens
The Ideal Bride (Cynster, #11) Stephanie Laurens
Skies of Fire (The Ether Chronicles, #1) Zoe Archer
The Forbidden Lord (Lord Trilogy, #2) Sabrina Jeffries
The Pirate Lord (Lord Trilogy, #1) Sabrina Jeffries
The Dangerous Lord (Lord Trilogy, #3) Sabrina Jeffries
Spiders Bite (Elemental Assassin Series #1) Jennifer Estep
The Story of Saiunkoku, Vol. 9 Kairi Yura
Crimson Empire Vol 1: Circumstances to Serve a Noble QuinRose
Tiger & Bunny, Vol. 1 Mizuki Sakakibara
Pepita: Takehiko Inoue Meets Gaudi Takehiko Inoue
Kare First Love, Volume 1-6 Kaho Miyasaka
Otomen, Vol. 15 (Otomen, #15) Aya Kanno
Dengeki Daisy 12 (Dengeki Daisy, #12) Kyousuke Motomi
Mobile Suit Gundam: THE ORIGIN volume 1: Activation Yoshiyuki Tomino
Paradise Kiss, Part 2 Ai Yazawa
Demon Love Spell, Vol. 2 Mayu Shinjo
Vagabond, Vol. 10 (VIZBIG Edition) Takehiko Inoue
Please Save My Earth, 1- 6 Saki Hiwatari
Kekkaishi, Vol. 14 (Kekkaishi, #14) Yellow Tanabe
Kekkaishi, Vol. 17 (Kekkaishi, #17) Yellow Tanabe
Barrage, Vol. 2 Kouhei Horikoshi
Barrage, Vol. 1 Kouhei Horikoshi
Jiu Jiu, Vol. 4 Touya Tobina
Oresama Teacher , Vol. 13 Izumi Tsubaki
Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 12 Julietta Suzuki
Skip Beat!, Vol. 30 Yoshiki Nakamura
Strobe Edge Vol. 2 – 4 Io Sakisaka
Paradise Kiss, Part 3 Ai Yazawa
Library Wars: Love and War #9 Kiiro Yumi
Here’s something fun, it is a sketch of Amethyst by Chris Haley!
Chris’ Etsy store has a great selection of prints. I bought Sad Batman and Superman: Flying is the best, which I intend to frame one day and place in my Nerd/Crafting Room, once I have a house big enough to support me having a Nerd/Crafting room.